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Best Practices for Evaluating Streaming Tech Vendors

What are some of the best practices for evaluating streaming tech vendors? Nadine Krefetz, Consultant, Reality Software, Contributing Editor, Streaming Media, discusses the various factors at play in making these decisions with LaShawn McGhee, Co-Founder & CPO, Revry, Rob Collins, Executive Director of Software Development, Starz, and Anil Malhotra, Co-Founder & Chief Marketing Officer, Bango in this clip from Streaming Media Connect 2023.

Krefetz says that while the question of how to evaluate a vendor may seem simple, the criteria can vary significantly for each company. She asks McGhee, “When you're thinking about something you need, what does your checklist look like?”

“First, I look at what's available, then I look at where that fits into our current ecosystem and whether or not it's going to work for us at their cost point and at scale,” McGhee says. “Often, at the end of the day, [it is] a cost versus scale conversation. Is this cost worth our time, effort, and energy? Is it an easy workflow to use? Is it something that doesn't take an exorbitant amount of time for us to implement or for us to get tech support? A term we've been kicking around in-house a lot is ‘business in a box.’ We often look for self-contained services, meaning they're not development services over here and customer service over here and this over there, because those things make a difference in response time and in how soon you can get to your answers and get to troubleshooting. So we really look at all of the factors, but after basically combing through what's available and whether or not it's going to work with our current implementation in live apps, we then look at whether or not cost versus our scale.”

Krefetz says to Collins that while earlier in the session, it sounded as if Starz builds everything, “That's not quite true, right? You're doing a lot of work with your vendors. So what's your evaluation process?”

“There's a couple of different dimensions on this,” Collins says. “In one sense, over the years, we've built working systems. So when we're evaluating vendors, we kind of have a higher bar of saying, ‘Is this particular technology so much better than what we have now that we're going to be able to replace a working system and get better revenue, [will it] make people's work more efficient and so forth?”

He cites a specific example. “Probably the most interesting journey we've had over the years was recommender systems,” he says. “Everybody's talking about recommendation, personalization. We've been doing that for a long time. We built something in-house, and it worked well, [but] for many years, it feels like we've had vendors that say, ‘We've got the greatest thing that you can use.’ We tried them out and found them lacking. About a year ago, we had a partner who is one of the biggest companies in the world, and we really went into AB testing [with them] because they seemed to have a better solution, at least ostensibly, and we were never going to hire as many PhDs as they have. They probably have more AI PhDs than we have employees at Starz. So we said, ‘Yeah, we'll partner with you.’ Essentially what we ended up doing is repurposing our in-house system, but giving them the engine, and we say, ‘Here's our watch data, here's some of the personal data, and so forth.’ So that one's been interesting. Some things we started [such as] payment systems, we said, ‘We're not going to build that.’ So from the beginning, we had been working with partners, but the recommender was, ‘Let's build it because it’s the best available.’ But as the market has matured, we have gone in that direction.”

Krefetz says to Malhotra of Bango, “What are some of the things on the opposite side that you're saying to customers when they start to ask you questions?”

“I suppose at some point, sooner or later, it boils down to revenue opportunity,” Malhotra says. “And the most obvious influence on that is how quickly can [it go] to market? So if this is something I have to build, logically, you'd think it will probably take me longer than if it's already out there. If something's pre-built, you should be able to deploy it faster. So obviously, one of the things that people come to us for is, ‘Hey, you've done this before.’ Hence, the digital vending machine idea. ‘Could we deploy your digital vending machine in our context [and] environment so that we can offer the services we want to offer?’ And then almost the first or second question we get asked is how quickly could we go live if we went to you?’

Malhotra highlights the fundamental benefits of going to market as quickly as possible. “The faster you go to market, the faster you can start kicking revenue off,” he says. “It also clearly works well for all parties because one of the second or third questions we get asked is, ‘Where are you connected already?’ So again, using that Bango digital vending machine metaphor, if we can make the case that this vending machine is deployed everywhere you want to go, then there's clearly an overwhelming argument for coming to somebody like us.”

Learn more about a wide range of streaming industry topics at the next Streaming Media Connect in November 2023.

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